Indonesia, like every other country, is searching desperately for a vaccine for COVID-19, which has sickened more than 98,000 people in the country, has killed more than 4,700 and has crushed the economy. Some countries, including neighboring Singapore, have declared a recession, and if no significant progress is made with regard to public health, Indonesia may follow suit.
A vaccine would give a significant boost to the reopening economy, a path the government has chosen despite the risk of a surge in infections. Unsurprisingly, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has said he expects a vaccine to be ready for mass production in the first quarter of next year.
The President has estimated that a potential national vaccination program would require 347 million doses. That’s a huge figure and would be largest number of vaccine doses the nation ever provided.
Vaccine development normally takes years to complete, but the ongoing pandemic has prompted international organizations, governments, pharmaceutical companies, philanthropic organizations, scientists and other members of the world community to attempt to accelerate the process. Hopefully, it will be a race between humans and the virus, rather than between nations or between big pharmaceutical firms.
As a champion of multilateralism, Indonesia has sought international cooperation in the production of a potential vaccine. At least two foreign biopharmaceutical firms have signed a deal to produce possible vaccines.
State-owned pharmaceutical company PT Bio Farma is partnering with China’s Sinovac Biotech on a potential inactivated virus vaccine and is discussing cooperation with the Bill Gates-backed Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), while state pharmaceutical firm PT Kalbe Farma is cooperating with South Korea’s Genexine Inc on a potential DNA vaccine.
Padjadjaran University in Bandung has been entrusted to conduct phase 3 clinical trials of 1,620 samples of a potential vaccine on humans. The success of these trials will determine whether the potential vaccine will be manufactured en masse. This make-or-break stage, which will determine the treatment’s efficacy and look for rare and long-term side effects, is expected to finish next January.
The Kalbe Farma–Genexine partnership will see phase two trials of a possible vaccine begin in Indonesia in September or October, after the completion of the first phase of trials, which is now underway in South Korea.
Strict supervision certainly matters as the potential vaccines must not put people’s lives in danger. The role of the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) will be to ensure the potential vaccine’s development does not compromise safety for the sake of speed.
Even if a vaccine is eventually discovered, the problems of the pandemic will not end. Not only will the government have to provide significant funding for the manufacturing, distribution and administration of a vaccine; it will also have to establish the order of priority in vaccination. This is not to mention possible resistance from the public, as was the case in the international drive for polio vaccination.
Some scientists believe a potential vaccine might not last long and that multiple vaccinations would be needed. It appears the fight against COVID-19 may carry on for years to come.